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  • Sir Livealot 9:38 am on July 12, 2012 Permalink  

    Casual Connect 2012 

    After working with several Indies, I saw that they all struggled to find time to both market and build the game they were making.  So I tried to help by putting together an overview of the marketing side of the equation.  You can check it out at the Casual Connect site.

    Marketing Playbook

  • Sir Livealot 10:23 pm on June 12, 2012 Permalink  

    E3 2012 

    Well, maybe the Mayans were right in predicting the end of the world in 2012.  But since their primitive language had no words for “console gaming” their prophecy wasn’t as specific as it could have been.  So fear not, the “world” as we know it is not doomed.  The “world of gaming” is not even doomed, evidenced by the hype and growth of mobile and social gaming.  But “the world of console gaming” as we know it has definitely seen better days.  E3 2012 had all of the pageantry, but none of the spark that usually goes with it, unless you love sequels to games you haven’t yet finished.

    But, as always, there were a few super cool things about E3.

    First, of the endless attempts at igniting a new fire for multiplayer gameplay, by far the most innovative was Luigi’s Ghost Mansion for the Wii U.  It wasn’t about better graphics, better killcams, better achievements or any of the stuff the shooters are all scrambling for.  Instead, it was innovation in 1 vs. 4 gameplay in a genre that is completely approachable to families.  It will be hard to tell from the pictures, but there was no other game on the show floor where the group playing was having more fun.





    Second, watch out for Watch Dogs, from Ubisoft.  Many saw the trailer for a jaw-droppingly gorgeous game, but my jaw dropped in a private screening where the designed pulled out his tablet and showed off the full companion app.  Not only could you peruse all of the backstory and game assets with the ease and comfort of a tablet, but you could actually hack into a friend’s live game and manipulate the world around them with a couple of taps.  I could see myself spending more time in the tablet experience than in the console experience.



     Third, HAWKEN was interesting on a number of levels.  As a mechwarrior style multiplayer shooter, they won’t get many points for creating a new genre.  But they more than make up for it by innovating in every other way possible.  Business model, F2P.  Delivery model, streaming.  E3 bash model, outside deck of the Luxe with Mix Master Mike.  And best of all, they’re innovating where it counts, in what it takes to make a AAA game.  When you see how beautiful the game is, how smooth the controls are, and how polished the gameplay is, you will be shocked to learn that it was all done by a tiny little team.  A good team for sure, but tiny.  And that’s why E3 2012 may be the end of the world for console gaming as we know it.

  • Sir Livealot 6:40 pm on February 8, 2012 Permalink  

    Qyzen Fess can STICK IT!!! 

    I’m a big fan of using gameplay data to trigger personalized marketing campaigns.  Since woefully few games do this, I’m usually a fan with little to cheer about.  Most games have the data, they send out lots of emails, but they hardly ever marry the two.  This week, however, I got something in my inbox to cheer about. 

    Like many Star Wars fans, I jumped into SWTOR when it launched.  And like many gamers, I got tired of waiting for the cinematic to load for every NPC interaction.  So I stopped playing a couple of weeks ago  (aka the gameplay “trigger”).  So what did EA/Bioware do?  They sent me a nice email asking me to come back.  Smart marketing!  I opened the email because the title was personalized to my gameplay, “Qyzen Fess misses the adventure.”  Smart marketing!  Qyzen, you see, is my sidekick in SWTOR.  Every character class has a specific sidekick to help you level up.  My character was a long-range DPS caster, so having a tank like Qyzen on my team was a big help.

    So here I am getting a trigger-based, personalized email.  As a fan of game marketing, I’m doing the wave!  And I cheer EA/Bioware for helping pioneer what good game marketing should be.

    But here’s the rub.  As a fan of games, I hated that email and am now doubly determined to NEVER go back to the game.  Why?  I HATED Qyzen Fess.  He’s a main reason I ditched the game.   First, he’s ugly, Sleestak ugly.  Second, he speaks like a Sleestak, which got annoying quick in a game where everything is a voiceover.  Third, what are the Sleestak doing in the Star Wars universe anyway?  Fourth,  I didn’t get to pick my sidekick and I sure wouldn’t have picked Qyzen.  In a game with a zillion interchange-able characters, not being able to tune your sidekick Toon seems like a crazy limitation.  Fifth, with the camera mechanics in SWTOR, I saw more of Qyzen than I ever did of the character I actually DID get to pick and customize.  Sixth, since the early game is class-based, everyone has a Qyzen at their side.  I guess the Kaminoans got their start cloning NPCs!  Seventh, ok, you get the point.

    But let’s return to marketing.  The retention mail was personalized, but not enough.  Since they never asked me what I thought of Qyzen Fess, they had no idea he would be the exactly wrong spokesman for the retention pitch.  They could have fixed that by letting me customize my sidekick.  Or, they simply could have asked me what I thought of Qyzen Fess at some point in the game before picking him as their spokeslizard.  That’s the real opportunity here.  Now that we have the capability to trigger and personalize marketing messages, we need to be more intentional about the data we collect and how we use it so that we KNOW it will be effective when used in marketing.   

    So we’re heading in the right direction, but still live in a galaxy Far, Far Away from where we should be.

  • Sir Livealot 11:06 am on September 23, 2011 Permalink  

    Play-o-graphics vs. Pay-o-graphics 

    Coming out of the inaugural PaxDev, I was impressed by the number and quality of talks about gamer segmentation–that is, all the different ways gamers like to play.  Similar to demographics, lets call these “Play-o-graphics.”  Some like to explore, some compete, others socialize, and then there’s the obsessive-compulsive crowd who must complete any goal or challenge you put in front of them.  With all these different types of gamers, it makes sense to think through how game design should adapt to best map to the Play-o-graphics of their audience.

    But I didn’t see any talk or theory about how gamers prefer to pay for the games they play.  Let’s call these “Pay-o-graphics.”  And Pay-o-graphics seem just as important when thinking through game design as Play-o-graphics.  The most advanced Pay-o-graphic segmentation I’ve heard is the simplistic Whales v. Minnows grouping.  Whales spend a lot of money on your game, and Minnows don’t.  So the game design theory says to identify the whales and make them as happy as possible.  But that seems too limiting of a theory and also punts on the idea that you can monetize the minnows as well.  Or, more to the point, gamers likely have a range of ways that they might prefer to pay for a game, and exceptional game design should find a way to adapt and include each Pay-o-graphic type.   For example, some folks might want to pay as you go, making small payments for the things that most interest them.  For others, that would feel like nickel and diming, and they would prefer to make a “one-and-done” payment for full access.  Others don’t want to part with money in any form, but wouldn’t riot or notice a restricting of premium features or the insertion of ads along the way.

    Most games so far have only accommodated a single Pay-o-graphic.  And there are lots of internal fights about which one to serve.  Should we be a subscription service like an MMO?  Should we just sell a retail version, and maybe some PDLC down the road?  Do we offer micro-transactions?  Do we include advertising?  Do we offer a free version?  And generally these debates focus on picking a single solution for ALL gamers.  But since Pay-o-graphics are just as varied as Play-o-graphics, that seems too limiting.

    Just as game design has learned to accommodate multiple Play-o-graphics, I think it should start learning and accommodating various Pay-o-graphics.  And if we had a better model of Play-o-graphics, then that could help lead to better design.

  • Sir Livealot 7:57 pm on September 7, 2011 Permalink  

    Get Up and Game! 

    Portability in games has exploded.  We can now play anywhere and anytime we want.  Innovation in Smartphones and Tablets has brought entirely new segments of gamers to the industry.  With all this device innovation, you would expect that we would also see a healthy amount of gameplay innovation and we have.   But what has not evolved is the physical form we humans take when we game.  We’re still crouched over and huddled in front of our screens.  Kudos to the Wii and Kinect for helping get gamers up off the couch to game.  Like the guitar and drum games, the physicality that goes with these games is a key ingredient to their success.  Gamers look like humans again.  And humans attract other humans, always have.

    But check out the dominant physicality for the smartphones and tablets…

    Good Game, Bad Posture

    The game can be great.  The place you play it in can be beautiful.  But today’s gameplay will generally turn you into a gaming hunchback in no time.  And what are the signals you’re sending to your fellow humans?  “Stay away from me!” or  ” I’m in my own little world, totally disconnected from the world around me.”  And whether it’s a blast, a bore, or work, the observer has no clue.  Not exactly the foundation for viral adoption that we’d like gameplay to present out in the real world.

    But there’s an easy fix.  The gyroscope.  The 3-axis little marvel of engineering is becoming standard on the latest generation of devices.  But no one has really tapped into its potential for gameplay…yet.  Sure there has been plenty of tilting and shaking, but nothing that gets the gamer out of their shell and onto their feet.

    Here’s what gyroscopic gaming COULD look like…


    And I hope someday soon it does!

  • Sir Livealot 6:13 pm on May 24, 2011 Permalink  

    Rifts in Online Game Communities 

    Lately I have had a chance to venture back into the MMO space with RIFT.  You can check out some of the fun from the blog posts you can send directly from the game.  It’s surprisingly good, but that’s not why I’m writing.  If you do check it out though, get your trial here and help me get a doggie through their Ascend-a-Friend campaign.

    Instead, what caught my attention was the reminder of how different game communities can be.  The FPS-centric clans on Xbox Live vs. the social networks on Facebook vs. the guild systems that dominate MMOs.  They are all very different.

    What I find really interesting is how community is woven into the game design of each.  In the FPS genre, it’s pretty easy to be a lone wolf and still fully enjoy the game.  And since there’s limited gameplay downside for being a social pariah, some folks thrive in the role of griefer, and impose a community tax on everyone else’s enjoyment of the community. 

    In the MMO genre, solo-ing really limits your ability to fully experience the game.  Questing is harder.  Dungeons are harder if not inaccessible.  And bosses can be nearly invincible without help.  In contrast to FPS, there’s a huge benefit to being a valued member of a community and a huge cost to being a jerk.  Net result?  Folks are a lot nicer in MMOs.

    That type of behavior kicks up a notch when you move to the *ville type games of Facebook.  On Facebook, the whole point is to make friends.  And so the games mirror that with key design principles like Gifting and Inviting others to play.

    Now, each of these communities is populated with “gamers.”  And there’s certainly a segment of the population like me that has a membership in each of those game communities.  But to lump all those “gamers” into the same “community” is a gross oversimplification.

    Just like how it would be nice to carve up my Facebook list and my LinkedIn list into sub-groups to tailor how I interact with each, I look forward to the day where I can smoothly navigate between and across all the rifts in my gaming communities.  I will also watch with interest all the experiments, both successful and comical, as game companies try to blend these diverse communities and cross-pollinate features unique to each.

    Until then, wtb [community] pst

  • Sir Livealot 2:58 pm on May 10, 2011 Permalink  

    OnLive’s Homefront Invasion 

    I have been watching all the hype around streaming gaming services like OnLive and Gaikai, and eagerly waiting to try it out for myself.  So many questions!  Will the introduction of these services mark the end of the console generation as we know it?  Will direct-to-consumer streaming deliver a death-blow to the retail channel? Will these services live up to all the hype they’ve generated?  Will they even work? 

    With the release of Homefront recently, I had my chance to find out.  First, kudos to the OnLive marketing team for a launch offer that was too-good-to-be-true.  I was planning on getting Homefront anyway, and if I got it from OnLive, I would also get all the necessary OnLive equipment for the low-low-introductory price of free.   

    Next, kudos to the OnLive logistics and packaging team for delivering a beautiful box to my door, with idiot-proof plug-and-play simplicity.  Within 5 minutes, everything was connected.  I now even have a nice spare HDMI cable since I had to share my TV’s single input.

    Next, kudos to OnLive’s systems team.  After another 5 minutes, I was signed in, synched, and patched.  And there was Homefront, in my library, ready to be clicked.  So I was feeling optimistic and pleased at this point, but the moment of truth on the reality of high-def game streaming was another click away.  So I held my breath, and clicked “Play.”

    To my delight, the intro cinematics started smoothly and I was into the game.  And shortly after that, both thumbs on the controller were working and scanning the first room in the tutorial.  So far, so good.  Then, the first encounter, and I started firing.  It was a bit awkward, but like most games, it takes a little bit to warm up to the controls and targeting system.  And like any good soldier, I pushed through.

    Then, about half way through the first level, I entered the first real firefight behind a gas station.  And to my shock, something happened that’s never happened to me before in a game tutorial…I died.  Now, I know those future North Koreans are a tough bunch and Homefront is a hard-core shooter, but I’ve got some respectable shooter skills myself.  So dying in the tutorial is a little embarassing.  I shrugged it off to the awkward feel of a new controller in my hands, and a hunch that maybe Homefront was aiming a tad high on their difficulty settings.

    So I reloaded and tried again.  And died.  And reloaded.  And died.  Sheesh!  Ok, reload, concentrate this time…and die.  Ok, work up some anger, focus, reload…and die.  I guess these North Koreans aren’t kidding around.  But we’re playing on my home turf, and you don’t lose on your home court.  So I kept at them until FINALLY I won the day by blowing up the gas station.  Victory, even midway through the tutorial, was sweet. 

    A little further in I encountered a second, even larger firefight.  Same result–I died.  Except this time the shiny new OnLive controller went flying across the room.  {Kudos to the OnLive manufacturing team for building a sturdy product}.  And with that death, the end of my OnLive Homefront exploration.

    Having eaten that much humble pie, I naturally hoped that there was some excuse other than my deteriorating shooter skills.  So I hopped down to Gamestop and picked up the 360 version of Homefront.  Maybe it was the controller, maybe the difficulty settings, or even the auto-targeting system.  But in the pursuit of my fallen gamer ego, I noticed other things that were different between versions.

    The opening cinematic, exactly the same.  But in that first room, I noticed flies buzzing around the 360 version.  And as I walked through the halls, the textures were much richer.  Homefront looked good in the OnLive version, but it looked a lot better on the 360 version.  But like comparing TV sets, it’s hard to tell the difference until you see them side-by-side.

    And then I got to that first firefight at the gas station.  Glory be!  I AM A GAMER AGAIN.  Not a single death on the 360.  Not only did I sail through the first wave of enemies, but when I blew the gas station, it erupted in flames–flames that weren’t present in the OnLive version.  But just like the texture detail, I wouldn’t have missed the flames if I didn’t know they were supposed to be there.  And I think that’s my biggest takeaway from the OnLive trial.  OnLive works, but the fidelity isn’t as good as the leading alternatives today.   But it’s cheaper.  And a lot more efficient at accessing an ever-growing catalog of content. 

    The lag that was probably the bane of my tutorial futility will sort itself out.  Bandwidth will continue to improve, and game designers will do a better job of accounting for lag with clever gameplay choices and auto-targeting schemes.  But the lag from streaming content will always introduce a fidelity penalty on that content, which will fork the audience between those who love fidelity vs. those who love the value of good enough + NOW.  And if OnLive succeeds in becoming ”good enough,” then the answer to many of those questions I had might just be “yes.”

  • Sir Livealot 9:43 am on April 5, 2011 Permalink  

    E3 for Kids 

    I love E3, always have.  The big booths, blaring music, over-the-top marketing gimmicks, and, most importantly, the games.  When I try to describe what E3 is like to those that have never been, I tell them it’s like Disneyland for gamers.  Well, now I might have to rethink that.

    I just took my family to Disneyland, and I was impressed by how much the happiest place on Earth now resembles E3!  Big attractions, blaring music, over-the-top marketing gimmicks, and, most importantly, the games!  The hottest ride right now at California Adventure is Toy Story Midway Mania.  What is it?  A 4-person shooter game where you compete against the other folks in your car, and where the car whisks you from level to level.  At the end, you compare your score to others in both total points and accuracy.  It’s not even a good shooter game, and wouldn’t rate a glance at E3, but at Disneyland, there’s an hour wait thoughout the day.

    Then, there’s the Innoventions Exhibit near Space Mountain.  Ever wonder where all those fancy gaming pods go when they’re not being used at E3 or other gaming conventions?  Well, wonder no more, because they hang out in the Innoventions Exhibit at Disneyland, with the same crowds and lines you see at E3.  The only difference is that the average age of the player is much younger, and there’s usually a parent  or two watching and waiting in the wings.

    Walt Disney was always about imagineering, so it’s really cool to see how the game industry is helping advance state of the art in that field.  So, if anyone in the games business asks you what Disneyland is like, just tell them it’s like E3 for kids!

  • Sir Livealot 12:52 pm on March 15, 2011 Permalink  

    Much Ado About Dragon Age 2 

    I have always loved BioWare’s storytelling flair and ability to make you feel like you’re playing the lead character in an epic movie.  And as they continue to innovate, they try new things which always gets my attention.  While there are many examples in Dragon Age 2, 2 pop for me.

    The first is the welcome addition of a third basic option in the dialogue tree…the comedic response.  The good vs. evil dilemma has been the mainstay of gaming narrative choice since the user was given a voice in the process.  This allowed the player to choose their own path through the world, and added replay value.  But there’s more to life than being simply good or simply evil, and, more importantly, there’s more to narrative entertainment than simply right or wrong.  That modality is wearing thin, and trite is boring.    Shakespeare knew this and so started writing comedies for the theater.  So too the bards at BioWare have launched the era of the comedy RPG with Dragon Age 2!  After all, I am playing for fun, and if the choices I make can make me laugh in the process, all the better.  I’ll even give up the achievement hunt for being perfectly good or desperately evil when given a chance to hear a good joke.  Bring it on BioWare!  I can only hope that other game makers follow suit, and start filling in the other theatric genres that have yet to be tapped in gaming.   

    The other attention getter was how I got my hands on a copy.  Pre-orders have been around awhile.  So have deluxe editions where you pay a little extra to get a little extra.  Dragon Age 2, with Gamestop’s help, combined the two in an interesting way.  If you pre-ordered early enough (aka helped build momentum for launch day), you could get the deluxe edition content for the regular edition price.  That’s a no-brainer for the pre-order, deluxe edition crowd.  But what’s interesting is why give it to them?  These are the same folks that are most likely to fork over the extra coin anyway.  While I can only speculate, possibilities include:

    • Converting more fence-sitters to the pre-order camp
    • Generating additional goodwill & loyalty of the biggest fans, which could increase word-0f-mouth and downstream PDLC
    • Avoiding backlash of signature edition content that was either not that good, or really cheap to produce
    • Appeasing GameStop, since they benefitted the most from locking up sales and pre-orders that could have shopped elsewhere.

    It will be interesting to watch how this new market ploy turns out in the sales results.  And it will be equally interesting to see how this slippery slope of appeasing the whales and the whale-sized distributors pans out for the publishers and the developers.

  • Sir Livealot 11:03 am on March 2, 2011 Permalink  

    Do You REALLY Need 100M beta testers??? 

    Testing a game before shipping is certainly an essential part of the development process.  And the more folks that test it, the more bugs they’ll find, which makes for a better quality game at launch.  But is it really fair to call Cityville, now approaching 100M monthly active users, a beta?  I know it’s still relatively new, but come on, that’s more players than all the other games combined!  {only slight exaggeration}  So why is Zynga still calling it a “beta?”

    I can imagine the internal discussions going something like this:

    • Development – Dude, we just compiled the code and have no idea what will work and what won’t, it’s definitely beta, more like alpha
    • Marketing – Dude, we can generate a lot more buzz and early adopters by calling it a beta.  That makes everyone, even the 100 millionth user, feel like they’re a cool early adopter
    • Legal – Dude, folks are paying us a lot of money, and if the game economics are still in flux, we don’t want anyone to sue us if we wipe out their initial investment. 
    • Execs – Dude, maybe if all the other game execs don’t think we’ve launched yet, they won’t notice that we’ve already cornered the market on all the gamers

    Whatever the reason, it’s working.  Because the upside to all this testing is the data and learning that Zynga is gaining at an accelerated rate.  And it shows in the usage stats .      It’s a launch and learn world now, so everybody better start launching.  And if slapping the beta label on it makes you feel better about launching something that doesn’t meet your traditional high standards,  feel free.

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